50 years after the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, there comes a book, so chilling in its detail and veracity, I will truly never be the same.
Keeping in mind the author is not a writer by trade, and it took her literally decades to write this book, it is on a level that parallels the best non-fiction writers of our time. Detailing the step-by-step deterioration of everyday life on a tranquil Missouri farm, and the long battle to discover the truth, the reader relives Ms. Piatt’s thoughts and emotions with her as the documentary unfolds.
Raising two daughters as a single mother, the author has a successful horse operation in Moscow Mills, MO. An idyllic existence, filled with friends, horse shows, prize breeding stock, and good clean country life is suddenly and tragically interrupted after the horse arena is “oiled” to keep down the dust.
Within weeks, small animals fall sick, and pets tragically die. Dead birds are scooped up by the dozens from the arena. Then the horses fall ill, one by one. The author and her daughters are plagued with a strange rash, and the youngest is hospitalized following a hemorrhage. The doctors at St. Louis Children’s Hospital are mystified. What follows is a heart-wrenching trip down the proverbial rabbit hole, as lies, cover-ups, dereliction of duty, and politics thwart the author’s mission to find what has caused the illnesses. Doing what the regulatory agencies won’t do, the author follows the trucks of Bliss Oil Company, obtaining evidence as they fill up at Monsanto, and dump the vile spew on country roads and fields, in creeks, and sometimes even down the drain at the local car wash!
Written with the aid of Ms. Piatt’s stunning memory, and her life-long habit of keeping notes, the book pulls you in from the first page, and the adult reader will have many “a-ha” moments as they recall certain events. The efforts of the author ultimately resulted in removal of Times Beach from the map after the toxic pollution by the perpetrator of her own tragedy was discovered in levels incompatible with life, human or otherwise.
A subtle undercurrent, one that the astute reader will pick up on, is the cause of this tragedy: was it simple ignorance of the dangers of chemicals in the early 1970’s, or the dark side of the horse business, where less successful horsemen seek to damage their perceived competition? Can simple greed rise to levels so unconcerned with both human and animal life? How could the EPA be so non-responsive in the face of overwhelming evidence? And what chemical dangers may be in our own backyard?
This book should be mandatory reading in veterinary schools throughout the country. While giving kudos to kind, caring and knowledgeable vets who went out of their way to help the animals, other practitioners were somewhat dismissive, and missed an opportunity as healers to diminish the almost unimaginable suffering of the people and animals depicted in this book.
Judy Piatt now lives and works in Licking, where she owns and operates the Chuckwagon Café. To learn more about the book, visit www.killinghorses.com.